Saturday, March 16, 2019
Breaking barriers and building trust

Author: Barry Hart

A reflection on trustbuilding by International Council member, Barry Hart (USA).

A barrier impedes or separates—it is like a physical barrier of wall. There are these physical barriers, but it is the psychological ones that more problematic. They cause us to cut ourselves off from others emotionally or involve words or actions that dishonor the dignity and the very humanity of another person or group. These barriers are the ones that hurt deeply and are often driven by our own hurt or ego, not just the other persons actions.

Trust is defined as having confidence in another person, that they are reliable. This means that we can count on them being reliable/trustworthy. Of course, we usually know when we are willing or not to trust someone—we intuit that the person is reliable and is being honest, is acting with integrity and is fair-minded. But we don’t always know this—until much later, when it is too late—when we have been hurt or deeply wounded.

Once we are able to process our anger and feelings related to being wounded, dishonored or exploited, we are better able to begin the trustbuilding process. To do this, we need understanding and practical action-oriented skills to move forward. The understanding comes as we look inward and try to understand the reason for being dishonored—what our role might have been and why the other acted in such a dishonoring way. This is not an easy process and requires a deep desire to bring about some form of healing or re-bonding between the other person or group. Don’t discount historical issues in all this, where there may have been a cycle of violence between you and the other person (or group) over time. Never leave out what happened in the past—and why—if you really want to move forward.

The following values and steps are important for building trust:

1. Willingness to shine the searchlight on ourselves. Test if our values of honesty and integrity, dignity and love are in place or need to be worked on.

2. Seek the wisdom and support of others to make the journey possible.

3. Find the right way to enter a dialogue. This can best be directly between persons, but also through a trusted intermediary, or mediator.

4. Address needs and interests and not positions. Needs and interests are related to our human condition, our identity and dignity or sense of value and worth. Positions are about “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

5. Work at acknowledging the pain of the past and when the time is right forgive or ask forgiveness. Be cautious about asking for or giving forgiveness too quickly.

6. Address justice issues that may include restitution, such as direct monetary restitution, educational grants, or donation to charities, doing work for the person harmed, etc.

7. Create a “safe space” and give the process sufficient time.

Entering a trustbuilding process in these ways raises the level of possibility for reconciliation to take place, and reflects the call to be bonded by love, which is our highest calling.


About the Author:

Barry Hart is Professor of Trauma, Identity and Conflict Studies in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. Dr. Hart has conducted workshops on psychosocial trauma recovery, peacebuilding and reconciliation in over twenty countries; and worked in the Balkans for five years where he developed and led trauma and conflict transformation programs for schools, communities and religious leaders. He was the Academic Director of the Caux Scholars Program from 1997-2010. Along with his courses at Eastern Mennonite University, Hart teaches in the master’s program, Interreligious Studies and Peacebuilding, at the University of Sarajevo. His latest project is helping develop training materials for NGOs and INGOs in psychosocial peacebuilding. Dr. Hart is a member of the International Council of Initiatives of Change. He holds a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), George Mason University. Publications include the book 'Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies.' and numerous book chapters and journal articles on conflict transformation, restorative and dignity.